The I-Team looks at alleged Tollway corruption.
For weeks we have been hearing about the so-called “clout lists” kept by governor Rod Blagojevich. Hundreds of names of his friends, contributors and cronies who were said to be given special consideration for state jobs.
The ABC7 I-Team sat down with some former state workers who say they were terminated from their tollway jobs to make room for the politically well endowed.
They were career state employees…on the job for up to 25 years… at the Illinois Toll Highway Authority…an agency that is supposed to operate independent of the governor and the state general assembly. But in a round robin discussion, they told the I-Team that their longevity, seniority and overall job performance meant nothing once Rod Blagojevich was elected governor in 2002.
“I just couldn’t believe it, I was totally blindsided. I was at first in disbelief and in shock,” said Maria Besbekos.
Besbekos was fired after state officials told her the job she’d held for 15 and a half years was no longer necessary. “Safety inspections at various worksite locations, accident investigations of people that were injured on the job,” Besbekos said.
John Hegeler had been an engineer with the toll authority for 21 years when he was fired in 2003…having survived several new governors.
What makes you think this was politics? “From the day I started there, I could knock on the executive director’s door any time I wanted and talk to him about the smallest thing that I thought needed to be fixed. But when they started, it was all over,” Hegeler said.
This happened to you. Was your first thought, this is the governor at work? “Yes, I thought it was because I was shocked too,” said Jim Fragakis. Fragakis worked as an electrician with state toll authority for 25-years. He says his boss told him he was fired as part of a reform effort at the tollway authority. Fragakis contends that his termination may have had something to do with his refusal to give a $100-thousand dollar gift to a state vendor.
“There was a contractor that did some work and a political person called me and asked me to pay this contractor some extras, and I didn’t do it, and I think that had something to do with it,” Fragakis said.
Read the whole thing. And expect a lot more stories like this between now and election day. State workers always dish on their bosses during campaigns. But this particular boss is intensely unloved, so the dish will runneth over. [emphasis added]
UPDATE: I missed this op-ed by Abner Mikva in today’s Sun-Times. Mikva writes several paragraphs about the reforms implemented by the Blagojevich administration and then takes a whack at the media.
But you wouldn’t know it by reading or listening to the media. The emphasis there is on vague allegations that “some” employees have been hired improperly. There are “lists” of open positions that have gone through various persons in the governor’s office. But there are no specifics as to whether such positions are “exempt” or Rutan-covered, or evidence that people whose names may be on lists were actually treated differently than anyone else. Every administration has the right to fill certain positions with people they think will best help them implement their agenda. And for those positions where politics cannot be a factor in the selection of a candidate, there is no prohibition against anyone making recommendations for the jobs. There is, however, a very clear testing and interview process that must be used to select the best candidate. The newspaper stories over the past few weeks do not offer any evidence that those processes were violated.
In fact, most of the recent allegations seem to come from disgruntled ex-employees. No one has even checked as to whether the disgruntlement is about loss of the job or something fishy on the job. If there are credible charges of improper hiring, they should go to the inspector general, state law enforcement and the U.S. attorney’s office.
Vague allegations of improper employment practices tar and feather the whole state work force. We need state government workers who take pride in their reputations, in their work efforts, who get “psychic” income from their jobs, to make up for the gap between their pay scales and those of the private sector. We aren’t going to encourage those kinds of applicants if we don’t acknowledge reforms that are working and instead beat up on everybody who goes to work for the state of Illinois.